Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Electricity in rural North Dakota essentially began in the 1930s with the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration, but most larger communities had had electricity for decades. Electrical generating plants were common in many communities, and entrepreneurs noted that the major cost involved in distributing electricity was in the generation – not transmission to the consumer. Consequently, power lines began creeping from Minnesota into eastern North Dakota in the 1920s, serving communities along the line as well as some fortunate farms that happened to be along the route.
By the mid 1920s, northwestern North Dakota also saw some significant development in the use of electricity. On this date in 1926, a fledgling company was moving into new accommodations in Williston. The Montana-Dakota Power Company had outgrown its previous office location. At first, the company planned to rent the top floor of the building, but it was soon apparent that the entire building was needed. The eight office employees would use the top floor, with the main floor being a store and display area.
R. M. Heskett had founded Minnesota Northern Power Company in 1924 and through acquisition of local power companies had expanded his base of business not only in Minnesota but into Montana. When Minnesota Northern Power Company was successful over Montana Power Company in a bid to control the supply of power to Miles City, Heskett was able to take over Montana Power Company. By the end of 1926 the company, managed locally by Charles Jennison, controlled 615 miles of transmission lines with 355 miles of line in North Dakota and 260 in Montana. The service area was divided into five sections. The Williston Division covered towns in Williams, southern Burke and northern Mountrail Counties. The Crosby Division supplied northern Williams, Divide, Renville and parts of Burke County. The other three divisions were located in Montana and included the Sidney, Wolf Point and Glendive Divisions. This allowed some of the smaller communities such as Battleview, Ambrose and Norma to have electricity at a time when generating plants would have been too expensive to erect in each town.
In 1934 Federal laws regulating power utilities would force the consolidation of Heskett’s enterprises into one central company. Montana-Dakota Utilities would emerge from this consolidation and go on to become a major player in power development in the Northern Plains.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
Williams County Farmers Press December 2, 1926